Shoulda Coulda Woulda

I turned in my 3500-word* Travel Literature essay on Friday night at 11:59pm. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I wrote about Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise / Before Sunset / Before Midnight cycle of films… have you heard of them?

I know it looks like I turned the paper in at the last second, but that was editing and shaping of the argument (always the hardest part for me). I’ve been researching and writing this thing for weeks (months?), so I was pretty happy with it.

Still, writing is a recursive process and it is tough to turn in off, even after you’ve met your deadline. All weekend, I’ve been having those little attacks of the shoulda-coulda-wouldas. They’ve mostly been mild, though there was one moment when I panicked that I might have left some snarky “I’ll come back and smooth over this” placeholder text in the middle, but that turned out to be a false alarm.

About 10 minutes ago, it occurred to me that I omitted something fairly obvious. See, my whole premise had to do with the space-time continuum; how these movies are travel narratives with temporal limits (the titles). And I have a very fitting literary quote about that sitting right here in the About Me section of my blog:

“The past is a foreign country:
they do things differently there.”
L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between

It’s fine. It is. I really don’t know what I would have done with that. But I think I’m picking up on a larger theme here – not a literary theme, but a life theme.

*I had originally posted that it was a 5,000-word essay. Actually, it was two essays: the Before Sunrise/Sunset academic paper and a 3,000-word creative piece.

Travelling and Writing and Traveling


Back in Galway again, after two weeks of traveling the British Isles. Feels good to be… home?

A decade ago, when I was on my London semester abroad, I took a course called Traveling and Writing. It was more or less a writing workshop where we shared personal essays about our experiences in a new culture.

I didn’t have a laptop at the time, so I would always type my papers in the computer lab of the study abroad office. We were in central London, so all the computers were set to British English, not American English. Spellcheck behaved a bit differently:

American English = Traveling

British English = Travelling

For an entire semester, I turned in essays for my Traveling and Writing class with a heading that included my name, the date, and the name of the course: Travelling and Writing. I actually became convinced that was how traveling was spelled, which took a while to unlearn once I got back home.

I have been thinking about that combination a lot over the past two weeks: Traveling and Writing or even Travelling and Writing. We’re in the middle of finals at school right now, but because all my finals are 5,000-word essays, and the appeal of a writing career is that one can do it anywhere, I decided to take this show on the road and write one of my essays whilst travelling (“whilst travelling” – doubly British).

It worked. I missed out on some stuff, but we planned the trip accordingly and with my writing habits in mind (performs best under a deadline). I really wouldn’t mind a life of Traveling and Writing.

“He treats objects like women, man.”

Forewarning: Tonight I purchased a ticket for Ruby Sparks fully prepared to hate it. I was not disappointed.

Creative Commons Attribution: Georges Biard


I admit to having a thing for Paul Dano. I overlooked him the first time I saw Little Miss Sunshine, but There Will be Blood piqued my interest and now the color-blind Nietzsche fanboy is totally my cup of tea. I even sat through Meek’s Cutoff for him.

He plays a yellow-livered coward in Cowboys & Aliens and more recently in Looper. Meek’s, Blood, and Cowboys were all westerns, and Looper is supposed to be a sort of reimagining of the western. I’m glad he’s getting roles, but I didn’t really like the idea of Paul Dano being typecast.

So when Being Flynn was closely followed by Ruby Sparks, I was kind of worried. I haven’t liked a movie about “the writing life” since I graduated from college, so I get kind of annoyed with previews that portray writer’s block. Paul Dano has that writerly look about him, but I would almost rather see him play supporting roles in westerns for the rest of his career than watch him stare winsomely at one more typewriter.

Being Flynn just seemed like a write-through-the-pain father/son story, but Ruby Sparks looked borderline offensive. He can manipulate a woman’s behavior? A woman whose purple tights barely cover her lady bits when he picks her up and carries her caveman-style down the street?

It was Ruby’s first lines in the preview that irked me the most:

I missed you in bed last night.
D’you get some good writing done?
[childishly licks spoon]

How… dumb. How thoroughly dumb.

Finding out that his female co-star wrote the film did not help matters. To clarify: Zoe Kazan wrote a screenplay where a man creates the perfect woman, and she cast herself as that perfect woman. Yeah, I want to see a film about the writing life according to Zoe Kazan.

This kind of reminds me of the kerfuffle about Lena Dunham when Girls premiered. People were annoyed that these privileged Gen Y-ers were essentially filming their lives and calling it art. Their defense was that someone can grow up rich and still have something meaningful to say, but I think what we’re getting at here is that normal people can’t get away with this. The rest of us go to public schools and get that sort of behavior beaten out of us by the other kids. We’re jealous, yeah, but it’s not of their money or their talent; it’s of their sheltered lives where this sort of thing is allowed, even praised.

Did I forget to mention that Zoe Kazan has rich, well-connected parents? And grandparents? And she’s – sigh – dating Paul Dano?

Over the past week, I did this whole thing where I read some Nick Flynn, then rented Being Flynn on iTunes, and finally dragged myself to the cinema to sit through Ruby Sparks (it opened later in Ireland than in the US, but it’s about to close here.) I treated it like an assignment, and boy did it feel like one.

A few weeks ago, Hadley Freeman tweeted:

All three of these films were excrutiatingly painful to watch. I don’t know if I’m just getting old, but they felt so formulaic: Wallflower had a checklist of teen-angsty issues that had to be crammed into the plot, and I liked Liberal Arts better when it was released 10 years ago and starred Zach Braff.

As for Ruby Sparks, well, the actress is a girl named Zooey Zoe, right? And by way of introduction, we see her riding a vintage bicycle rollerskating in sunlight while a voiceover describes her attributes and she’s from somewhere that’s not Los Angeles, like maybe Michigan Ohio and ohmygod we get a quick peek at her high school yearbook photo! Then there’s a scene where she and her love interest run around Ikea an arcade because they are just so twee and in love!  But maybe he’s not seeing her clearly? Just like his sister brother cautioned?  Conflict arises. And when it’s all over, he meets a new girl, but she’s kind of the same girl, because her name is the next season in the annual cycle purposefully left out of his latest novel.

Hadley does this better than I ever could, but I needed to get it off my chest. I walked home upset that people get to create vanity projects like Ruby Sparks while some really good ideas go underfunded. Luckily, Paul Dano pretty much disappeared into his role, so in my eyes, he made it through this movie unscathed.

Internet Research and Author Services

I have been writing a paper for the last five hours, so my brain is mush and this probably won’t be a very good post.

I’m writing about Kirkus Reviews for my Contemporary Publishing class. This is the first paper I’ve written as a graduate student, and I’m a little nervous.

The essay is supposed to be between 2,000 and 2,500 words, and at last count, I had amassed just over 3,000. Now I just have to edit it down into a coherent argument…